Weekly Chasidic Story #700 (s5771-34 / 23 Nisan 5771)

The Cold Compress Cure

The Ksav Sofer thought for a few days and then recommended that Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld travel to the Divrei Chaim for help.


Connection: Seasonal – 135th yahrzeit


In the mid 1860’s, when Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem for nearly sixty years, was a young man of draft age in Austria-Hungary, he consulted with his renowned Rosh Yeshiva in Pressburg, the Ksav Sofer, for advice on how to avoid the oppressive, anti-Jewish army service. The Ksav Sofer thought for a few days and then recommended that he and two other of the students, travel to the famous scholar, the Divrei Chaim, for help.

Yosef Chaim and his friends were surprised at the recommendation to travel to a chasidic rebbe, but they of course listened to their great Rabbiand made the trip, arriving in Sanz late in the morning. They found the Divrei Chaimsaying the Asher yatzar blessing in preparation for the Morning Prayer, which that day had been unusually delayed.

Yosef Chaim and his companions were extremely impressed with the intention and focus that the Sanzer Rav invested in this blessing. However, those same companions were equally dismayed by what they perceived to be a disregard for the official time-limits for the Morning Prayer, so they turned around and left Sanz without speaking to the Rebbe. Yosef Chaim, however, decided to see what the Divrei Chaim could do for him, trusting that the Ksav Sofer had steered him correctly.

Young Yosef Chaim presented his problem to the Divrei Chaim, who said, ”You will be a soldier and even a general for Jewish children in the Holy Land.” Yosef Chaim did not understand a word of this. Besides, it was not practical advice. So he asked again what he should do about his obligation to enlist. Reb Chaim replied, ”Travel home through such-and-such a town and enlist there. [One could enlist in any town one chose.] And when you get home,” he continued, ”put a cold compress on your leg.”

Yosef Chaim did not understand this either, but he decided to follow the advice nonetheless, to see what good it might bring him, and to return to the Ksav Sofer with a report of the wondrous ways of the Sanzer Rav.

Yosef Chaim reached the specified town toward evening. That night he was kept awake by an itch on his leg that kept him scratching most of the night. By morning, when he appeared at the draft office, the leg had swollen frighteningly. The army doctors took one look at it and opined, ”You ought to travel to Vienna. If they amputate your leg quickly enough, your life might be spared.” They handed him an exemption from the army.

Yosef Chaim was frightened, but as he returned to his lodgings, he remembered the second half of the Sanzer Rav’s advice. He put a cold compress on his leg, and shortly thereafter the swelling subsided and his leg returned to normal.

Years later, after he had moved to Eretz Yisrael and become a leader in the battle against its secularization, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld remembered the Divrei Chaim’s initial words about his future role and marveled at their prescience.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from a post by Yitz on, taken from an article written by Yisroel Mendelson in HaModia in honor of the Divrei Chaim’s 130th yahrzeit.

Connection: seasonal – 135th yahrzeit of the Divrei Chaim.
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz [1793 – 25 Nissan 1876] was the first Rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenberg dynasty. He is famous for his extraordinary dedication to the mitzvah of tzedaka and also as a renowned Torah scholar; his voluminous and wide-ranging writings were all published under the title Divrei Chaim.

Rabbi Avraham Benyamin Schreiber (1815-1875), known as the Ksav Sofer after the title of his halachic responsa , was the son of the illustrious Torah giant, the Chassam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Shreiber (1762-1839), and his successor as the head of the Pressburg Yeshiva, the most prestigious in the Austrian-Hungarian empire and the largest in all of Europe.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld [1848 – 19 Adar A 1932] studied under the Ktav Sofer at the renowned Pressburg Yeshiva in Austria-Hungary. He was a Torah leader of the Ashkenazi community in the Old City of Jerusalem for nearly sixty years, and became its official head after the death of Rabbi Shmuel Salant in 1909.



Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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